by Norman St.John-Stevas
:THERE is no doubt that I Europe as a whole is now entering into a new and vital phase in her history and that the prospects for a renewal of the advance towards unity are today better than at any time for the last decade.
I was in Paris last week for the meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of Western European Union and also witnessed the election of M. Pompidou as President of France: parliamentarians of all the European countries present were more hopeful about the creation of a wider European Union than for many years.
I should say something, first, about W.E.U. which for most people is merely a set of incomprehensible initials. It dates back to the Brussels Treaty of 1948 just after the war when Britain, France and the Benelux countries signed a treaty of defence pledging themselves to mutual co-operation.
A year later the N.A.T.O. treaty was signed involving the signatories of the Brussels treaty but adding the United States and a number of other European countries and creating a unified command.
At this time Germany and Italy, as ex-enemy states, were still outside the European defence structure but they were brought into the W.E.U. by treaties concluded between 1954.55 and at the same time a Parliamentary Assembly was set up to which the Ministers of the member-states report every year and which is empowered to debate the whole of defence policy.
This constituted a new departure in international politics: never before had a parliamentary assembly been able to discuss defence on an intraEuropean basis and it had been formally excluded from the province of the Council of Europe, The Assembly has done extremely useful work in bringing Ministers into touch with parliamentary opinion on what is after all the most important function of the nationstates, their self-defence.
At the Assembly there was almost unanimous agreement that the defence of Europe should continue to be carried on within the military and political structure of N.A.T.O. The French attitude of hostility to N.A.T.O. has considerably softened since the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Russians last year.
They have also abandoned their ridiculous defence policy of deploying their forces to meet an attack from any direction or any state (the so-called tout azimuth approach) and have recognised realistically that the only real threat to Western European countries comes today from Russia. The fact that this is so is one of the beneficial effects of the N.A.T.O. alliance: it has prevented a renewal of militarist nationalism in Europe for nearly a quarter of a century.
Europe today is still dependent on the United States for its defence, and one of the most urgent problems of the future is how a move can be made towards greater European self-sufficiency in defence matters. The unpalatable fact has to be faced that we shall have to spend a greater proportion of our national budgets on defence.
The European conventional forces, even with the American troops in Europe, are insufficient to hold off a conventional Russian attack for more than a few hours and the Western alliance would then have to resort to nuclear weapons to avoid being overrun.
This is an intolerable position and one of the first tasks of European statesmen in the post-de Gaulle era must be to increase the size, mobility and efficiency of our forces so that in the event of an invasion a holding operation could be carried through giving time for a negotiation to avoid a nuclear holocaust.
Nuclear defence policy also needs revision. At the moment Europe is virtually dependent for her security on American goodwill. The Americans are bound by treaty to come to the aid of other threatened members of N.A.T.O. but the nagging suspicion remains that in the event the Americans would not be prepared to use nuclear weapons and put their cities at risk in order to protect a European country.
This American reluctance is likely to grow greater in the future and the logic of events is pushing us towards the creation of a unified European nuclear defence force. Mr. Heath has started thinking in this direction and has already given tentative form to his conclusions in suggesting that the French and British should pool their deterrents and hold them "in trust for Europe." This conception raises many problems, especially that of control, but the logic of a common defence policy and a unified nuclear force entails a common political control. Defence unity and political unity have to advance together.
In this situation Britain must take the lead in working for a full political union of Europe. The signs from France are now very hopeful. In the new French Government the three vital ministries of Foreign Affairs, Finance and Agriculture arc held by Ministers who arc in favour of a wider European union.
Negotiations for British entry into the Common Market are not likely to open at once but must wait until after the German' elections in the autumn, but by the end of the year the whole process could be under way.
We should seek to keep them brief and avoid the long drawn-out negotiations of 1962. Britain will get a last -chance of playing her full and rightful part in European Union. We must not miss it this time.